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Scale Bar for Non Projected Map Display

April 20 2010 | 0 comments
Categories: Map Elements, Page Layout

My question is probably directed more to ESRI than a Cartographer. Why does the ESRI software allows users to place scale bars on non projected data? Results are especially bogus as regions approach the poles. Why not grey out this capability as a sanity check to users who are not grounded in fundamental cartography........

Mapping Center Answer:

Mostly this comes down to market demand.  While it totally makes sense--common sense, that is, to do what you suggest, ESRI has plenty of customers with deep pockets that want our software to more flexible.  They're perfectly happy with a scale bar and note explaining its value...or not.  It's a shame that cartographers didn't get to make the rules in those organizations.

Another perspective is that if it's really only to protect the those "who are not grounded in fundamental cartography", then maybe the real problem is addressing the idea that people who are not capable of making a map properly should not be in the position of making a map. Or that they need to take some time and expend some effort to learn the proper way to make a map. But again, some of ESRI's customers know that they won't always be able to place a properly educated and trained person in the position of mapmaker--and it's more important to those customers to forge ahead, even if it means creating a badly executed map. Again, we don't make the rules. But we do try to help alleviate the problem by fielding questions, providing information and offering instruction on Mapping Center.

It boils down to something pretty simple:  software and organizational rules and politics should not be excuses for making bad maps.  Whether bad maps are made by people who don't care, don't care to learn, don't know what they don't know, or are competent but make an honest mistake, it doesn't really matter.  Too many organizations employ the wrong people (for many reasons) to make maps or they do not expend the resources to help their map makers learn the cartographic skills they need to make good maps. Too many organizations have no quality control or assurance procedures to ensure they don't make bad maps.  And perhaps worst of all not enough people can tell a good map from a bad map, and know why. 

Like I said, it's not fair that cartographers didn't get to make more of the rules.  Life's not fair, but we shouldn't let that stop those of us who know better from doing better.  So do send more questions like this to us and we will keep trying to educate all the map makers out there who do not yet have all the information they need to make good maps.

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